Transfiguration 9781472550187, 9780826475954

Dorothy Lee argues passionately for restoring the study of The Transfiguration to the centre of the theological stage, a

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For Barbara, Ruth, Miriam, Irene, Emma and Jodie On the mountain, you were transfigured, and as far as they could your disciples, Christ our God, saw your glory; so that when they saw you crucified, they might understand you suffered of your own free will, and might proclaim to the world that you are indeed the Father's reflection. (from Matins for the Feast of Transfiguration in Wybrew, 2000, p.lll)

Was it a vision? Or did we see that day the unseeable One glory of the everlasting world Perpetually at work, though never seen Since Eden locked the gate that's everywhere And nowhere? Was the change in us alone, And the enormous earth still left forlorn. An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world We saw that day made this unreal, for all Was in its place. The painted animals Assembled there in gentle congregations, Or sought apart their leafy oratories, Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together, As if, also for them, the day had come. (from 'The Transfiguration' by Edwin Muir, in Butter, 1991, p.186)

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No monograph is ever the work of just one person, despite the solitary name on the cover. A number of people - and communities - have made possible the writing of this book. I thank the Theological Hall and especially the Principal, Peter Matheson, for granting me leave to undertake this study; my colleagues, Christiaan Mostert, Robert Gribben and Brendan Byrne for their theological advice; Grantley McDonald, Miriam Pollard and Peter Blackwood for assisting with details; the Joint Theological Library for locating books and articles; the wonderfully supportive staff of the Theological Hall; my friends at Queen's and Ormond College; Maryanne Confoy and Frank Moloney for ongoing encouragement; the Community of the Transfiguration in Breakwater; and Robin Baird-Smith of Continuum for his patience and support. I am also grateful to Collette Rayment for a conference paper, some years ago, on the transfiguration and the poetry of Peter Steele, which kindled my interest in the subject. This book, which explores a narrative about six men, is dedicated to six women. In diverse ways, these women have taught me about love, beauty and glory: my mother, my sister, my two daughters and my nieces. Despite his illness and in the midst of his own demanding research, my father, Edwin Lee, found time to listen, suggest and support; to his spirituality I owe the ultimate inspiration for this study. Finally, I thank Maggie who has sat (literally) at my feet for long hours curled into a small, expectant ball of fur, occasionally contributing the odd muddy footprint. Ormond College Ormond College Melbourne Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius 14 February 2004

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The transfiguration tells the story of Jesus' ascent of the mountain somewhere at the mid-point of his ministry, in the company of three of his disciples. There his physical appearance is changed, metamorphosing into incandescent light, a light that blazes from his face and clothing. Two of the greatest (long-dead) prophets of Israel's past appear beside him, conversing with him. The disciples, meanwhile, are overawed at the spectacle and respond with incomprehension and bewilderment, Peter proposing to erect three tents to house Jesus and his celestial guests. At this point a cloud intervenes, overshadowing the heavenly figures, and a voice speaks from the cloud, declaring Jesus to be the beloved Son. Then the miraculous signs recede and Jesus is left alone to descend the mountain with his bemused disciples. With variations, this narrative is told four times in the New Testament, in each of the first three Gospels and in 2 Peter (in abbreviated form), but there are allusions to it elsewhere, particularly the Gospel of John. The story is rich in symbols, with the mountain, the light, and the other images all deriving from Old Testament symbolism and conjuring up a wealth of meaning. In short, the transfiguration provides a powerful evocation of Jesus as the source and bringer of light, who reveals the glory and beauty of God to the disciples. In theological terms, its meaning is inseparably bound up with the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection and the future coming of Christ. Given its dramatic and theological import, it is strange that the transfiguration should be one of the most neglected stories in the New Testament. This neglect is confined largely to the Western tradition. Christians in the East regard the transfiguration as central to the symbolism of the gospel, disclosing as much about themselves as about God. In the West, by contrast, the feast of the transfiguration is a minor event and ignored entirely in some denominational traditions. For the most part,

2 Transfiguration post-Enlightenment biblical scholars have shown little interest in the transfiguration, minimizing its theological status. If anything, biblical studies has tended to 'experience the story as alien' and to 'rationalize this strangeness'.1 More recent decades have shown a shift in this perspective and a recovery of a much-neglected but vitally important biblical story. Greater awareness of Eastern Orthodoxy, with its theology and icons, has made a difference. It is no coincidence, moreover, that Pope John Paul II introduced into the saying of the Rosary the 'Luminous Mysteries' - mysteries from the ministry of Jesus as narrated in the Gospels, including the transfiguration.2 In line with such movements, this book argues for a recovery of the transfiguration story: its theology, symbolism and spirituality. Its neglect may be symptomatic but is more likely causative. Western Christianity in many places is struggling for survival against a deadly secularism that smothers any sense of transcendence or mystery, too much of which has penetrated its own ranks. The Church needs to regain the vision of Christ on the mountain, the light in which we see light, the echo of the divine voice acclaiming Jesus the beloved Son - the biblical symbolism of a majestic, incarnate, crucified God as the only source of hope for the transfiguring of a disfigured world. To recover the story, we need to recognize that the transfiguration is not an other-worldly narrative, disconnected from the body and ordinary human experience. On the contrary, it is precisely Jesus' transfigured body that discloses the face of God and the hope of God's future, addressing the concrete reality of a fearful, uncomprehending group of disciples and a tragic, unbelieving world. In the end, it is as much about their transfiguration, the luminous glory shining in the ordinariness of their flesh, as it is about Jesus' transformation. The transfiguration on the mountain is the meeting-place between human beings and God, between the temporal and the eternal, between past, present and future, between everyday human life - with all its hopes and fears - and the mystery of God. The attachment between them, at every point, is Jesus himself. The transfiguration presents him dressed in the garments of divine light yet clothed also in the garb of creation. He is the point of intersection, the bridge between heaven and earth, the source of hope, bringing to birth - through incarnation, death and resurrection - God's eschatological future. What kind of narrative is the transfiguration? In general, such questions are important for the reader of any text. The way we read is shaped by the kind of text we think we have before us. Different genres contain



different elements; their style and form diverge as well as their modes of expression. For example, the way we read a letter from a friend will be different from the way we read a work of non-fiction. Similarly, we will read a work of non-fiction differently from a novel or short story. As readers we need to know in advance what kind of literature we are reading - even if we have to adjust our ideas along the way. We know before we begin a work of history that the characters exist outside the covers of the book; we know that the characters in a novel (mostly) have no existence outside the author's imagination. Note that the distinction here is not between what is Veal' (history) and 'unreal' (fiction). Historians are also, in a sense, telling a story, one that is also already interpreted; and fiction can represent a profound and truthful exploration of what it means to be human. Sometimes history and fiction seem very close: 'history and literature are equally modes of dealing with, of finding language for, reality' The same is true of the transfiguration - we need to know what kind of literature we are dealing with. The traditional view (over many centuries) is that the transfiguration story is based on a genuine historical event, even if its meaning is also deeply symbolic; the three disciples are seen as independent eyewitnesses. To the modern scientific mind, however, there are insuperable problems with this view: 'Even on its own terms, the story does not seem plausible.'4 Peter's ability to recognize Moses and Elijah in a time when Jews did not believe in depicting the human figure is almost inexplicable by contemporary standards. As a result, the presence of Moses and Elijah is seen as a pointer to the importance of the story, rather than something that the Gospel writers expect us to take literally (although Luke may well disagree!). This kind of interpretation reflects the modern tendency to read the story as symbolic rather than historical, though in a limited way.5 Thus, the emphasis of the story is seen to lie, not on the metamorphosis of Jesus' person, but on the divine voice and what it has to say about Jesus' teaching.6 Yet here again we encounter problems. Jesus' identity, for the historian, is accessible only in human terms, making the presence of the light and the declaration of Jesus' sonship difficult to classify. Even the category of 'myth' does not assist the modern interpreter, weighed down by the presupposition that mythology (like fairy tales) is somehow not quite real and certainly unrelated to everyday reality. ' One way of resolving the problem has been to assume that the transfiguration was originally a resurrection story thrown back into the ministry of Jesus.8 This interpretation presupposes that the story is out of

4 Transfiguration place in the ministry of Jesus, inconsistent with his more usual conduct. The teaching of Jesus, his suffering and death, even his healing ministry: all these can be made sense of in historical terms, but the transfiguration belongs in a different category entirely. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that the transfiguration is significantly different from the resurrection stories, and thus of a very different genre.9 Although there are parallels between the transfiguration and the resurrection, these are not numerous or direct enough to warrant regarding the transfiguration as a resurrection story that has lost its way in the maze of Jesus' ministry. Nevertheless, there are stubborn elements in the transfiguration that suggest an historical kernel, even if we allow for the development of the symbolic. For a story whose chief elements have a cosmic, mythological tone - in the proper sense - the details are surprisingly difficult to interpret. For example, there is no consensus on Peter's suggestion of erecting three tents; it has given rise to a considerable number of explanations, none of which is wholly satisfactory. To interpret the story as a piece of Jewish-Christian invention, based on Moses' ascent of Mount Sinai, is likewise hard to establish, given the allusive nature of the parallels, even in Matthew's account, which are difficult to pin down with any certainty.10 Taken together with a persistent tradition in mysticism of holy people surrounded by inexplicable light,11 it is hard to dismiss the transfiguration historically. The symbolism is not as transparent as we might assume had it been the product of Christian imagination. This does not mean that the transfiguration is an ordinary historical event, open to the gaze of the 'neutral' historian.12 As human beings we lack, as it were, a standpoint from which to view the transfiguration.13 What a bystander on the mountain may have seen at this extraordinary scene is another question entirely; in the biblical realm, perception depends much on the spiritual capacities of the perceiver. Even if we cannot dismiss the story too quickly as historical (in some sense), we are still left with the question of genre. There are two possible answers to this question. The first is that the transfiguration is to be read as an apocalyptic vision of the end time, a vision already begun by Jesus in his proclamation of the reign or kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).14 Apocalypticism arose as a movement in Israel in the mid-second century BC in response to intense religious persecution. Its mysterious symbolism was a way of concealing the revelation to all but the insiders, focusing on God's future restoration of Israel and triumph over evil and death. It



deals, in other words, with eschatology: that is to say, the final advent of God to redeem creation at the end of history. The Old Testament background is located in the apocalyptic visions oí' Daniel 7-12 which look with hope and expectation to the coming of God's reign, signalled by the heavenly Son of Man (Dan. 7:13). In Mark's Gospel, this hope is already coming into focus in the ministry of Jesus, while retaining its future orientation. In this reading, the transfiguration depicts Jesus as he will be at his future coming, a coming already anticipated in his ministry and resurrection. The focus of the story is on what it reveals of God's glorious future and the central role Jesus plays as God's chosen agent. The second answer is that the transfiguration is to be read as an epiphany. An epiphany is a literary form which consists of the appearance of a heavenly being on earth with a message for a particular person or group of people.15 In Luke's Gospel, the annunciation - the appearance of Gabriel to Mary - is such an event (Luke 1:26-38). Old Testament parallels are found in stories such as the visitation of the three angels to Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18:1-15), or the appearance of the angel to Balaam which initially only his donkey perceives (Num. 22:22-35).16 If the transfiguration is indeed an epiphany, it means that it is fundamentally concerned with the revelation of Jesus' heavenly origins and identity, manifest in bodily form in the here-and-now. The emphasis now is on what is revealed of God and God's salvation in the present moment. It is difficult to choose between these two explanations of the transfiguration. Within the context of New Testament theology, both have their origin in Old Testament understandings of God's relationship with Israel, both are concerned with the relationship between divine and human in the person of Jesus, and both make sense of the transfiguration. We may ask, therefore, why the two interpretations must be seen as mutually exclusive. Is it possible that both genres overlap? If so, the transfiguration can be read as both apocalyptic vision and an epiphany. It expresses, on the one hand, the revelation of Jesus' heavenly identity in the context of his ministry and, on the other hand, his role in bringing to birth God's future, where that identity will be fully and finally manifest. In the following chapters, this book acknowledges that each New Testament version of the transfiguration tells the story in its own way and should not to be assimilated to the other accounts. What is remarkable is that, in so short a tale, there is so much uncertainty and controversy over the details. As often with biblical symbolism, we are attempting as

6 Transfiguration modem readers to insert ourselves into a world of associations and connotations that we do not inhabit.17 We begin with the Gospel of Mark,18 most probably the earliest of the written Gospels, examining the transfiguration story in the light of the whole Gospel (Chap 1). Although Mark inherited the story from oral tradition, it is not our concern to dissect the original form of the story but to understand it in its Markan context. There follows a study of Matthew (Chap. 2) then Luke (Chap. 3), both of whom most probably depended on Mark and edited his story for their own purposes and in their own ways. Each of these three Gospels - generally called 'Synoptic' because of their close inter-relationship - sets the transfiguration within a wider literary and theological framework. We need, therefore, to take into account the material in each Gospel which parallels, and thus casts light on, the transfiguration story. From there we move to 2 Peter 1:16-18, which gives a rather different version of the transfiguration story (Chap. 4). Finally, we look at transfiguration elements elsewhere in the New Testament (Chap. 5), especially the Gospel of John, where transfiguration symbolism seems to permeate its narrative and symbolism. There are traces of the transfiguration tradition in several Pauline passages and in the Apocalypse, suggesting a widespread knowledge of the story in the early Church. Finally, the book concludes with an exploration of the meaning of the transfiguration and its symbolism, drawing together the various theological strands of the narrative across the New Testament (Chap. 6). Notes 1 Luz, U., Matthew 8-20: A Commentary (trans. J. E. Crouch, ed. H. Koester), Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 2001, 403. 2 The five mysteries are: Jesus' baptism, his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, his proclamation of the kingdom, the transfiguration, and the institution of the Eucharist. 3 Templeton, D. A., The New Testament as True Fiction: Literature, Literary Criticism, Aesthetics (ed. G. Aichele), Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1999, 305. 4 Miller, R. D., 'Historicizing the Trans-Historical: The Transfiguration Narrative (Mark 9:2-8, Matt. 17:1-8, Luke 9:2&-36)', Forum 10, 1994, 246. Miller argues that the transfiguration contains nothing of value for reconstructing the life of Jesus (219-48). 5 For an interpretation along these lines, see, e.g., Perry, J. M., Exploring



the Transfiguration Story, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City, MO, 1993. 6 The story is often classified as a 'pronouncement story', a narrative whose real import is not the plot itself but rather a climactic saying of, or about, Jesus. 7 For a powerful refutation of this post-Enlightenment view of myth and fairy tale (including their relation to reality), see Tolkien, J. R. R., 'On Fairy Stories', in Tolkien, J. R. R., Tree and Leaf, Unwin Books, London, 1964, 43-63. 8 See, e.g., Bultmann, R., The History of the Synoptic Tradition (trans. J. Marsh), Blackwell, Oxford, 1963, 259-61. There are also two later apocryphal versions of the transfiguration, in the Ethiopie Apocalypse of Peter and the Pistis Sophia, which locate it in the resurrection context. 9 See, e.g. Dodd, C. H., 'The Appearances of the Risen Christ: An Essay in Form-Criticism of the Gospels', in Nineham, D. E. (ed.), Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, Blackwell, Oxford, 1957, 9-35. 10 Both points are raised in Davies, W D. and Allison, D. C., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 3 vols (ed. J. A. Emerton et al), T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1988-97, vol. 2, 692. 11 See Ramsay, M., The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, 2nd edn, Barton, Longman & Todd, London, 1967, 102-3. 12 Discussing the resurrection, O'Collins, G., The Easter Jesus, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1973, 57-62, draws a distinction between events open to the inspection of the secular historian and events that have their causative origin in God alone. 13 Wink, W, 'Mark 9:2-8', Interpretation 36, 1982, 63-4. 14 See, e.g. Kee, H. C., 'The Transfiguration in Mark: Epiphany or Apocalyptic Vision', in Reumann, J. (ed.), Understanding the Sacred Text: Essays in Honor of Morton S. Enslin on the Hebrew Bible and Christian Beginnings, Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA, 1972, 135-52. For a survey of theories, see Moses, A. D. A., Matthew's Transfiguration Story and Jewish-Christian Controversy (ed. S. E. Porter), Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1996, 20-6. 15 See Heil, J. P, The Transfiguration of Jesus: Narrative Meaning and Function of Mark 9:2-8, Matt 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36, Editrice Pontificio Istituto Bíblico, Rome, 2000. A disadvantage of this otherwise helpful study is that Heil, op. cit., 37-8, makes too rigid a distinction between

8 Transfiguration vision (which, he claims, is more subjective), epiphany and theophany. 16 For other Old Testament examples and a fuller discussion, see ibid., 38-73. 17 Nineham, D. E., Saint Mark, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1963, 233. 18 The translations offered at the beginning (and occasionally throughout) each chapter - which are my own - are deliberately somewhat rough and inelegant to give the flavour of the original Greek.

l The Transfiguration in Mark 9:2 And after six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John, and bore them up to a high mountain by themselves in private. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became glistening, very white, such as no bleacher on earth could whiten them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses and they were talking together with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus in response, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' 6 For he did not know how to respond, as they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud came overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud: 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him.' 8 And suddenly looking around they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. 9 And as they were descending the mountain, he instructed them to relate what they had seen to no-one, until the Son of Man should rise from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9) Mark tells the story of the transfiguration in simple yet dramatic language. The three phases - ascent, revelation, descent - make use of apocalyptic symbols of light and radiant garments, by which Mark depicts the unfolding drama of God's future, breaking into the grim realities of the present. In this dazzling hope, Jesus' identity as the divine Son is the keystone. In his intimate relationship to God, Jesus is the bearer of the reign (or kingdom) of God, the one through whom God generates that glorious future. The transfiguration story, therefore, speaks as much about Jesus in the present as it does about God's glory in the future; it is as much an epiphany, in the biblical sense, as an apocalyptic drama. The context in which Mark tells his tale makes it clear, moreover, that the glory - which is both an apocalyptic vision and an epiphany - is tied inextricably to suffering and the way of the cross. The poetry of the transfiguration directly addresses the sullen rhetoric of the cross, the beauty of the one turning to embrace the ugliness and squalor of the other. The transfiguration forms part of Mark's portrayal of the journey to Jerusalem (Mark 8:22-10:52). This journey is structured around three



evenly distributed predictions of Jesus' forthcoming passion, death and resurrection. The predictions increase in intensity, the third being the most detailed and comprehensive (8:31; 9:31-2; 10:32-4). They form the backbone to Jesus' teaching in this section of the Gospel, while the journey itself is symbolic, concerned to reveal Jesus' identity and his destiny in Jerusalem, as well as what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple. Mark sees discipleship as flowing from Christology - that is, from his understanding of Jesus - so that the revealing of Jesus' identity is bound up with the calling of disciples.1 Following each prediction along the way to Jerusalem, Mark exposes the misunderstanding of the disciples (8:32-3; 9:33-7; 10:35-45), a misunderstanding that will climax in their betrayal, flight and denial in the passion narrative. The journey is framed by two stories of blind men receiving their sight, one at the beginning and one at the end (8:22-6; 10:46-52). Standing at the commencement of the journey to Jerusalem, the transfiguration story thus occupies a strategic position in Mark's Gospel. Indeed, it is part of a diptych that stands at the heart of the Markan narrative, two central panels at the mid-point of the Gospel (8:27-9:13).2 In the first panel (8:31-8), Jesus at Caesarea Philippi predicts his death and resurrection, unfolding his identity as the suffering, dying, rising and returning Son of Man to his astounded disciples. He speaks of the way of the cross as implying a life of renunciation, self-denial, and voluntary powerlessness. In the second panel, where Jesus is transfigured on the mountain before his frightened and uncomprehending disciples, his identity is again revealed, in different though complementary terms. On either side of the two central scenes, Jesus and his disciples discuss his identity in relation to John the Baptist and Elijah. In the second of these, the first passion and resurrection prediction at 8:31 is confirmed. In the centre of the sequence, between the two panels, is a transitional saying introduced by 1 tell you solemnly' (9:1). This rather puzzling saying leads from one panel to the other, bringing the first scene to a climax and setting the second scene in motion.3 The promise of the Son of Man's future glorious return, says Jesus, will even now be fulfilled in the lifetime of some of those present. While this probably refers to the promise of the risen Christ's presence with his disciples, its more immediate meaning must be the transfiguration. What the revelation at the centre of Mark's Gospel is about is the reign of God (basileia: 1:15; 4:11; 11:10; 14:62), a coming that is dependent on Jesus' identity and divinely-given destiny. The revelation is directed at those disciples who will 'see' in their lifetime

The Transfiguration in Mark


God's future reign, breaking into the present with transforming power. Note that at the empty tomb the young man in white will tell the disciples that it is in Galilee they will 'see him' (16:7). The symbolism of seeing is thus important for Mark, especially on a journey bound by two blind men who receive sight, in contrast to the disciples who fail to see.4 To see means more than the visual sight of Jesus: it is a discerning seeing that arises from faith. The theme of the Markan diptych is primarily Jesus' identity, which is both manifest and secret at the same time. Throughout, there is a procession of voices that addresses the question of Jesus' identity, each moving closer to the innermost circle: other people (8:27), the disciples Cy°u'> 8:29), Jesus himself ('the Son of Man', 8:31, 39), and finally the voice of God from the cloud (9:7).5 At the same time, linked to the question of identity is the motif of faith and discipleship flowing from Mark's understanding of Jesus. The whole unit may be illustrated as shown in Table 1.1. Table 1.1

Introduction • Secrecy of revelation • Role of Elijah and John the Baptist • Disciples' lack of understanding (8:27-30)

PANEL 1: SUFFERING (villages of C.P) Revelation of Jesus to disciples as suffering Son of Man, who will rise from the dead and return in glory (8:31-8)

^Transition Seeing God's reign come in power (9:1)

PANEL 2: GLORY (mountain) Revelation of Jesus to three disciples as beloved Son, transfigured in radiance and light i9:2-9)

Conclusion • Secrecy of revelation • Role of Elijah and John the Baptist • Disciples' lack of understanding (9:10-13)

Because modern biblical scholars tend to play down the transfiguration, they often underestimate the importance of the second scene, highlighting instead the first with its message of suffering - the way of the cross that commences at the height of Jesus' Galilean ministry. As a result, the transfiguration becomes little more than a footnote in the revelation of the cross. Mark is venerated as the martyrs' Gospel, the Gospel of the suffering Son of Man, with its sympathetic portrayal of Jesus' human struggle



to carry out the dark, divine will. Suffering is certainly integral to Mark's theological message, and the divine voice at the transfiguration does instruct the disciples to listen to Jesus as he teaches, and walks, the sorrowful path. But the necessity of Jesus' suffering cannot be isolated from the revelation on the mountain. The two panels - passion prediction on the road to Caesarea Philippi and Jesus as the Son on the mountain belong together, each incomplete without the other. Suffering and glory stand together at the heart of Mark's Gospel. Indeed, both dimensions are in one sense present in each of the two scenes. Resurrection, future coming and glory are explicitly referred to in the first scene (8:31, 38), while suffering is implied by the command to listen to Jesus in the second (9:7). In either event, both themes challenge the disciples' expectations of the coming Messiah. Both direct the disciples to God's reign, as it unfolds on the road and on the mountain. The transfiguration story itself has a simple structure, framed by Jesus' ascent and descent of the mountain in company with his three disciples; in the middle is the transfiguration itself and its attendant heavenly signs, with Peter's response as the centre (Table 1.2). Table 1.2 a Setting: Jesus ascends mountain with three disciples (9:2a) b Revelation of Heavenly Signs: • Jesus transfigured • Moses and Elijah (9:2b-4) c Disciples' Response: Peter, tents, confusion, fear (9:5-6) b1 Revelation and Interpretation of Signs: • the cloud • the voice (9:7) a1 Conclusion: Jesus descends mountain with disciples (9:8-9)

This structure, technically called a 'chiasm' - for its a b b a pattern makes plain the important role played by the disciples as witnesses to the

The Transfiguration in Mark


transfiguration. They are present both in the frame (a and a1) and at the centre (c) of the story. Yet, as we shall see, the revelation of Jesus and its heavenly interpretation form the narrative backbone (b and b1), to which the disciples respond. Their role is to testify to the transfiguration after the resurrection, when the revelation in Jesus will be complete (9:9). Peter's response enacts the misunderstanding of the disciples as a whole, though it is not without insight. Mark's transfiguration story begins with an unusual time reference: 'six days later' (9:2a). This is strange given that Mark is not usually specific about time outside the passion story. It is possible that the six days reference has a symbolic function. It could be a time-marker, for example, that sees the seventh day as the day of climax following the revelation at Caesarea Philippi.6 Or there may be a parallel with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24). There the cloud settles on the mountain for six days before Moses ascends to receive the two tablets of the law (Exod. 24:16), written 'with the finger of God' (Exod. 31:18). The Sinai parallel is not an exact fit but an allusion that does not cancel out other possibilities. What is patent is the connection between the transfiguration and the saying at 9:1. This is not the only occasion in Mark's Gospel where the three disciples are singled out by Jesus. Peter, James and John are among the first four to be called by Jesus (1:16-20). All three, along with Andrew, are present at the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (1:29-31). They participate in Jesus' lifestyle and ministry, coming under fire from the religious authorities (2:16, 23-4; 7:1-16). They are among the twelve appointed to 'be with him', sent out to proclaim and cast out demons (3:14-15). Their names appear at the head of the list and they are the only ones to be given nicknames: 'Peter' meaning 'rock' (though, since it is Greek, Mark does not explain it) and 'Boanerges' meaning 'sons of thunder' (3:16-17). Belonging to the circle of Jesus' new family, they are given the key to the mystery of God's reign (4:11, 34). Along with the other disciples, they witness Jesus' mighty acts and are awestruck by the one whom 'even the winds and sea obey' (4:41). The same three witness Jairus' twelve-year-old daughter rise from the dead (5:40-2). They are among those sent out on the mission (6:7-13), returning with a sense of achievement (6:30). Yet already the twelve show signs of failing to grasp the mystery of God's reign, for all their willingness to follow. After the dual feeding episodes, Jesus exposes their hardness of heart (8:14-21). It is not surprising that, as this mystery deepens with the revelation of Jesus' suffering and glory, the disciples' incomprehension likewise deepens. Peter's confession at



Caesarea Philippi receives not commendation (as in Matthew's Gospel), but a stern command to secrecy, and Peter's subsequent reaction to the first passion and resurrection prediction confirms the limited nature of his understanding (8:29-33).8 Here for the second, though not last, time in the Gospel, Jesus takes the three disciples aside - privileged, self-sacrificing yet also stubborn and uncomprehending - leading them up the high mountain for the second stage of his self-revelation (see 13:1-37; 14:32-42). Already Jesus has alluded at 9:1 to the fact that some of those present will not die until 'the reign of God has come in power'. For the evangelist, at this moment, Peter, James and John represent those 'standing here' who will gain a vision of God's transforming reign. Indeed, everything in the story points intentionally to the disciples: Jesus 'bears them up' (literally) to the mountain, he is transfigured before them (9:2), Elijah and Moses appear to them (9:4), Peter's suggestion is described as his response to these events (9:5), the voice coming out of the cloud addresses the disciples, and as they descend the mountain Jesus enjoins secrecy (9:9), a secrecy they are to unveil at the proper time.9 Mark tells the story from the vantage-point of the disciples. Other symbols of the transfiguration have a similar wealth of meaning. One of the richest is that of the mountain. In ancient cosmology, a high mountain stands on the boundary between heaven and earth. In the Graeco-Roman pantheon, for example, people thought that the gods dwelt on the heights of Mount Olympus under the command of Zeus/Jupiter, king of gods and mortals. Judaism too shared a somewhat similar cosmology, though not in so literal a way The Old Testament identifies several mountains as the 'mountain of God' and associates them with revelation,10 the most famous being Mount Sinai which Moses ascends to receive the gift of the law, entering into the glorious presence of God. Prior to that, the revelation of the divine name and God's commissioning of Moses at the burning bush occur on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3).11 Like Moses, Elijah too experiences a vision of God on Mount Horeb: not in the noisy wind or earthquake or fire but paradoxically in a 'sound of sheer silence' (1 Kgs 19:11-13). Mount Sion is also important symbolically, even though it is a different location to Horeb/Sinai. The symbolism, however, coheres. The holy city of Jerusalem, on the top of the mountain, is the city of God, the habitation God loves above any other (Ps. 87:1-2). The temple especially is the place where God's glory dwells (e.g. Ps. 25:8; Wis. 9:8), where God is to be seen

The Transfiguration in Mark


in awesome holiness and beauty (Isa. 6:1-4). In other places, the mountain of God - associated with Sion - is eschatological: it depicts the glory of the last days when righteousness and peace will flourish, symbolized in the final banquet (see Isa. 11:6-9; 25:6-10a). From the sanctuary of the temple, streams of living water will flow for growth and healing (Ezek. 47:1-12). The mountain of God in the Old Testament is thus a numinous place where the air, in more senses than one, is thin: revelation, the law, epiphany, divine indwelling, the end time. Mark gives no indication of the actual mountain on which the transfiguration takes place. Origen (185-254 AD) and Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-86 AD) identified the site as Mount Tabor, a tradition that persists today. Tabor is not impossible as a location, although it is not strictly a high mountain (1350 ft), lies some distance from Caesarea Philippi (south of Capernaum), and in the first century AD had a Roman fortification on its summit. Other possibilities include Mount Hermon, which is much higher (9200 ft) and just north of Caesarea Philippi - being the source of the Jordan - and also Mount Meron (3926 ft) in Upper Galilee. Nevertheless, the actual venue is unimportant for Mark. What matters is that Jesus stands, as Moses and Elijah before him, on the mountain of God, at the boundary between heaven and earth, 'on the outskirts of heaven'.12 Unlike the baptism, which has strong parallels with the transfiguration, nothing is said of the heavens opening, since 'the mountain-top setting obviates a sky-opening'. Indeed, Jesus himself represents the bridge between heaven and earth, as the divine voice testifies (9:7; also at the baptism, 1:10-11). In one sense, therefore, we can speak of the mountain as a symbol of Jesus himself, with the geography - as elsewhere in this Gospel - serving as a symbol for Mark's Christology. The most spectacular symbol of the transfiguration is the change in Jesus' clothing, which becomes radiantly white, beyond anything in the natural realm (9:2b-3). The transformation (metemorphôthê) is miraculous, unearthly, 'such as no bleacher on earth could whiten them'.14 Mark is not speaking literally of white but rather the 'colour' of light, a light that transcends the natural world. It is a divine hue, showing Jesus' true identity, an identity hidden from human eyes thus far in the Gospel - though implied in everything Jesus says and does - but now triumphantly released to the disciples on the mountain. This is the same numinous clothing from which healing power has come earlier in the Gospel (5:27-32; 6:56),15 the clothing over which the soldiers will cast lots at the crucifixion (15:20, 24).



White clothing is particularly characteristic of heavenly beings in the apocalyptic writings of Judaism and early Christianity. Apocalyptic theology is concerned with eschatology, the advent of God's future reign on earth. In this literature, God's appearance is associated with whiteness, light and fire, all three elements being closely linked. In the vision of Daniel that Mark quotes elsewhere in his Gospel, the Ancient One is garbed in garments 'white as snow', a stream of fire issuing from his presence (13:26; Dan. 7:9; 1 Enoch 14:20). Similarly, the angelic beings who stand in the presence of God are clothed in radiant white garments (16:5; 2 Mace. 11:8). By extension, the righteous in heaven will also be clothed in white, wearing celestial garb as befits their status and abode (e.g. 1 Enoch 62:15; 2 Enoch 22:8-10; 4 Ezra 2:39; Apoc. 3:5; 6:11; 7:9,13-14; 19:14). Yet it is strange, given these associations, that only Jesus' clothing is described as white and radiant. Mark does not extend the same description to Moses and Elijah; indeed nothing is said of their raiment or demeanour. The portrayal of Jesus' radiance suggests that his identity, like his physical appearance, is unique. Mark makes no explicit mention of Jesus' face being changed, unlike Matthew and Luke (Matt. 17:2; Luke 9:29). Yet Mark's actual wording is ambiguous. He describes the change in Jesus' appearance in two statements: Jesus was transfigured and his clothes become dazzlingly white. This could mean that the whiteness of his clothing was the medium of the transfiguration, the word 'and' being explanatory: 'he was transfigured before them in that his clothes became white.' Alternatively, it could be an inclusive statement: 'he was transfigured before them, including his clothes'. In this case, the change in Jesus' clothing - which 'only confirms the unearthly character of his appearance'16 - would extend to his whole physical form.17 If so, the reference to the transfigured clothing in Mark is a form of metonymy, a figure of speech where the part stands for the whole. It is possible, therefore, that even for Mark Jesus' entire body is metamorphosed: 'Jesus is transfigured, not merely His clothes.'18 Mark implies that Jesus' transfiguration is the revelation of his glory (doxa\ although the actual word does not appear in the story itself. Yet the previous scene has already spoken of the Son of Man's future return in glory (8:38), a glory that the transfiguration seems to anticipate. Mark is again drawing on apocalyptic traditions - which display the hope of God's future triumph - as well as employing symbolism associated with Sion in the Old Testament. The two traditions flow together: glory refers back to the indwelling of God on Mount Sion in the temple, on the one hand, and

The Transfiguration in Mark


forwards to the final fulfilment of God's reign, on the other. Jesus' whole being on the mountain is suffused with the saving presence of God; surrounded by the glory of the Shekinah, the divine presence redolent with indwelling light.20 But do the light and glory of the transfiguration come from within Jesus himself, as the expression of his hidden self, or are they the gift of God coming from without? The divine voice speaking out of the cloud suggests the latter: that it comes from beyond Jesus and depicts 'Jesus' entrance into the Shekinah ... Jesus' unique envelopment in the heart of God'.21 Yet the light shines only from Jesus himself, and from no other, intimating that the metamorphosis is also, paradoxically, the outward manifesting of Jesus' identity, an identity that is nonetheless dependent upon God. In either case, the light that Jesus displays illuminates his whole being, extending even to his clothing, and will be vindicated at his final coming, his parousia.22 The symbolism indicates that Jesus belongs not just in the earthly world but also the heavenly; not just in the present but also God's future. The glory has its source in God but it is also a glory that Jesus himself possesses from his first appearance in Mark's Gospel (1:9-11) - a glory given, not borrowed, interiorized, forming a unique selfhood that, while bestowed by God, belongs also to Jesus. His radiance is at once the dramatic symbol of his inimitable relationship to the heavenly realm - his unique favour with God - and his own interiority and selfawareness. In a similar way, the symbolism of Moses and Elijah as Jesus' celestial companions indicates something of Jesus' identity (9:4). The reversed chronological placement in which Mark introduces them at first seems strange: 'Elijah with Moses'. The clue to the word order is probably found once again in the realm of apocalyptic symbolism. There were expectations in Judaism that Elijah would appear at the end time as the messenger of God's reign. Malachi speaks of Elijah as the eschatological prophet who will come 'before the great and terrible day of'the Lord' (Mai. 4:5). At the beginning of Mark's Gospel, a verse from Malachi precedes the quote from Isaiah which introduces John the Baptist, setting the prophecy in the light of God's future: 'Behold I send my messenger before your face' (1:2-3). Similarly at the transfiguration the priority of Elijah ensures an eschatological orientation to the Markan narrative - we now know that Mark here is concerned with God's final advent.23 Mark makes a good deal of Elijah and sees John the Baptist, in one sense, as the fulfilment of Malachi's promise; Mark's Jesus likewise shares the fate of Elijah/John the Baptist,



who are subjected to persecution and rejection. So too at the transfiguration, the prominence given to Elijah coheres with Mark's theological concerns. Because Mark sees Elijah as an end-time figure, and because Elijah has influenced his portrayal of both John the Baptist and Jesus, Elijah's name precedes Moses as the more important figure in this context. The traditional reading that Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets has its problems. In the Old Testament, Moses is not just the giver of the law but also the greatest of the prophets. Judaism had expectations of a 'prophet-like-Moses' who would arise to speak the word of the Lord in a way that the people of God would hear (Deut. 18:15-18). In a parallel way, the prophet Elijah (whose name is associated with no actual prophetic writings) is a champion of the law over against idolatry. In fact, Elijah himself does not die but is assumed into heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kgs 2:1-12). The Book of Deuteronomy makes reference to Moses' death and burial (Deut. 34:5-6), but the circumstances are mysterious and the site of the grave unknown. The mystery surrounding his burial gave rise to speculation, in some Jewish circles, that Moses too, like Elijah and Enoch (Gen. 5:21^1), had perhaps never actually 'tasted death',24 but had been assumed into heaven.25 Both Moses and Elijah are thus major prophets of Israel's past, associated in some way with bypassing death. Both receive epiphanies on Horeb/Sinai that shape the future of Israel (Exodus 3; 24; 34; 1 Kgs 19:1-11). Both in different ways, even in their frailties, exemplify fidelity and obedience to God. There is also a mystical dimension to the presence of Elijah and Moses. They represent what Christians later came to call the 'communion of saints' - the heavenly world with which Jesus is in communion. In this sense their significance is more subjective: they inhabit not only the celestial realm but also Jesus' own spiritual world. Their external manifestation mirrors their internal presence within Jesus himself, indicating their importance for his spirituality. Although Mark (unlike Luke) says nothing of the subject of conversation between the three exalted figures on the mountain, the very fact that they are portrayed as 'speaking together' emphasizes their union and communion. While the transfiguration is narrated from the viewpoint and for the sake of the disciples, it would be a mistake to lose sight of what Jesus himself experiences. His transfiguration is bound up in his awareness of these two giants of Old Testament history and spirituality - prophets who knew God intimately and who shaped the destiny of Israel with their faith and insight.

The Transfiguration in Mark


Moses and Elijah are thus complex symbols, representing God's ancient people, Israel, and associated with mountain epiphanies and the events of the end time. One thing is clear in the range of possible meanings. For Mark, the symbolic significance is unmistakably Christological: their presence acts as a dual pointer to the identity of Jesus himself. It is no coincidence that they appear at the very moment of Jesus' metamorphosis, opening up past, present and future to the heavenly world, and giving a cosmic perspective on the human world embodied in Israel. As his celestial attendants, Moses and Elijah point symbolically to Jesus, standing 'in the role of Jesus' sponsors'.28 They remain long enough to present him as the fulfilment of all they stand for in Israel's past and election by God. Like the unearthly white of Jesus' garments, Moses and Elijah, even while not partaking of his brightness, disclose Jesus' heavenly identity, an identity superior to them in every way. With both continuity and vivid contrast, therefore, God 'brought forth the leading prophets so that [the disciples] 29 could see how great a difference there was between slaves and the Master'. Standing at the centre of the narrative is Peter's response to the symbols of transfiguration (9:5-6). Mark illustrates Peter's enthusiasm but also his woeful lack of comprehension. Indeed, the suggestion that three tents be constructed to house Jesus and his guests is surprisingly difficult to make sense of and Mark has to explain in an editorial aside that Peter's request shows his (and the other disciples') misunderstanding as a result of fear (9:6). Whatever Peter actually intends by his spontaneous outburst, either Mark himself can make no sense of it or Peter's associations are comprehensible, albeit incorrect. Both options would explain Mark's editorial comment. If Peter has a specific meaning and is not just babbling 31 incoherently from fear, we should be able to pin down his assumptions. There are three possible meanings. The first is that the transfiguration recalls to Peter's mind the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Originally a harvest festival, Tabernacles required that worshippers live for the duration in tents or huts, constructed from leaves and branches, as a reminder of their wandering in the wilderness. Later the feast acquired eschatological significance, looking joyfully to God's redemption at the end time (Lev. 23:33-6; Deut. 16:13-15).32 If this background fits the Markan context, then Peter's mistake would be his assumption that the last days have already come. Yet the problem with this view is why Peter would not propose the construction of six tents rather than three. Surely the disciples would see themselves as participants in such an event, just as they would expect to participate in the festivities of Tabernacles?



The second possibility is that Peter is reminded of the tent of meeting in the wilderness, where long ago God spoke to Moses outside the camp of the Israelites (Exod. 33:7-11; Deut. 31:14^15). This interpretation would mean that, in Peter's eyes, the transfiguration - and especially the communion between Jesus, Moses and Elijah - signifies the re-opening of an ancient channel of communication, a channel requiring an earthly edifice. Yet why, in that case, would Peter propose three tents instead of one? During the wilderness period, there was only ever one tent for Moses to commune with God. Peter would hardly suggest the erecting of three tents where only one is required by the Old Testament symbolism. The third possibility has its source in more overtly apocalyptic texts which, as we have already seen, have had a powerful influence on Mark's theology. Peter may well be thinking of the eternal tents in which the righteous will dwell with the angels at the end time (1 Enoch 39:3-8; Testament of Abraham A 20:13-14). This context would certainly cohere with the fact that Jesus is wearing the proper attire, clad in the garments of heaven. Peter's mistake would then lie in equating Moses and Elijah with Jesus, placing all three on the same level, as if there were no difference between them. If so, his mistake is quickly countered by the divine voice from the cloud, which singles out Jesus alone, and by the sudden disappearance of Moses and Elijah. This third explanation makes some sense, but it too is not without problems. Why is nothing said of Moses and Elijah's raiment, if such be the case? And why should Peter think such flimsy constructions would achieve his aim of providing permanent abodes for the three 'holy ones'? The simplest and most popular explanation is that Peter wants to hold onto the experience and prolong the glory in any way he can, including the marvellous presence of Moses and Elijah. Understandably, he does not want this terrifying yet exhilarating moment to end. In this view, Peter fails to appreciate the future eschatological significance of what is revealed on the mountain and the necessity of Jesus' intervening suffering and death. As in the previous scene - with which the transfiguration is so closely bound - it becomes clear that Peter still wants Jesus to bypass the cross (8:32). This view is attractive as far as it goes, particularly if we detect a mistaken kind of eschatology in Peter's desires: his assumption that the end time has already come. However, this interpretation explains that but not how he misunderstands. No more than previous options does it demonstrate precisely how three temporary shelters can achieve the permanence Peter has in mind.

The Transfiguration in Mark


It is not easy to choose between these interpretations; all have possibilities and all have problems. It is most likely that we are in no position to tell exactly what Peter does intend.34 Mark makes no effort to explain specifically what Peter's words denote and our attempts to pinpoint his meaning may, in fact, take us beyond the scop>e of the text. If this is right, a number of biblical and symbolic associations will naturally occur to the well-read reader - the feast of Tabernacles, the tent of meeting, the eternal dwellings of the righteous - but none can be pinned down with any certainty. We are left puzzled by Peter's 'uncertain and confused offer', a puzzle that Mark himself does not attempt to resolve. Indeed, it may be that Peter himself is unclear of his precise meaning, his words being a spontaneous outburst provoked by the confusing emotions that the transfiguration evokes. Thus, while the three tents may well have symbolic value in Mark's tale, they are clearly an inadequate symbol, either inept or positively misleading. Peter's words reveal his misunderstanding when confronted by the glorious mystery of God's reign and the path that it takes to attain fulfilment. At the same time, it would be a mistake to conclude that Peter is entirely wrong in his impulses. Along with his misunderstanding is joy at being present at such an event. His fear at its unexpected majesty and glory may, in any case, be closer to awe than mere fright,36 although it is not easy to separate the two, especially in Mark's Gospel. Peter is right on both counts, even if Mark's language seems understated. Joy and fear are the normal human emotions to an epiphany and, at one level, entirely appropriate. Peter's immediate reaction, that 'it is good that we are here',37 is also fitting; after all, Jesus has brought him up the mountain for precisely this purpose. The fact that the three disciples cannot grasp the experience and so misunderstand it does not detract from what they have genuinely seen and perceived. The change in Jesus' body and the appearance of Moses and Elijah are indeed uniquely 'good' (kalon), just as it is 'good' 38 for the three disciples to behold the beauty unveiled before them. Confronted by these two extraordinary figures of the past, and in company with a radically altered yet still recognizable Jesus, Peter rightly 'recognizes their indissoluble connection with Christ'. For this reason, Peter's use of the title 'Rabbi' is surprisingly minimal in this context (though changed by both Matthew and Luke), especially given his faithconfession of the week before (8:29). Perhaps Peter is stammering, too overcome by what is happening to know what he is saying. Overall, his response betrays a mixture of insight, misunderstanding and awe.40



Peter's response is followed, almost at once, by the intervention of the overshadowing cloud and the words of the divine voice: 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him' (9:7). While being symbolic in themselves, these also help to elucidate the symbolic meaning of what has already taken place. Inasmuch as Peter is placing the three heavenly beings on an equal footing, the voice functions as a corrective to Peter's misapprehension (although Jesus at least has priority on his list): Teter wanted three tab41 ernacles but the heavenly response showed him that we have but one.' Yet the cloud and the voice are more than correctives; they are integral to the transfiguration. The voice from the cloud reveals the hidden, divine presence behind this event, the origin and goal of all that happens. It also functions as an interpretation of what has happened to Jesus, both in his bodily transposition and the appearance of his heavenly attendants.42 In each case, we are told, these are the tangible symbols indicating his identity as the beloved Son. The cloud itself is not a natural phenomenon, any more than the light, despite the common occurrence of cloud on high mountain peaks. Its sudden appearance is miraculous and seems to embrace only the three heavenly figures.43 The verb 'overshadow' in the Greek Old Testament means literally 'to cast a shade', with the sense of covering or even sheltering (episkiazein). This suggests that the cloud actually conceals Jesus, Moses and Elijah from the gaze of the disciples.45 The fact that the voice comes 'out of the cloud' (9:7) likewise suggests that the disciples are outside, their role as onlookers being to bear witness to both cloud and voice. In the Old Testament, and particularly the wilderness tradition, the cloud is associated with the guiding hand of God and the Shekinah: the 'pillar of cloud' that leads the children of Israel through the wilderness by day, in addition to the 'pillar of fire' by night (Exod. 13:21-2; 40:36-8). The same cloud hovers over the tent of the covenant (Num. 9:15-17) and over the mercy seat (Lev. 16:2), and is associated with the glory of the Lord (Exod. 16:10). Mount Sinai is shrouded in cloud when Moses ascends to receive the law (Exod. 24:15-18; 34:5). In each case, the cloud is a symbol of God's saving presence, God's gracious self-manifestation to, and protection of, Israel through exodus and liberation. The cloud thus signals divine presence and divine revelation; it is a 'better tabernacle' than the three suggested by Peter.46 Nevertheless, the Markan narrative at first reading suggests the very opposite: that the cloud conceals rather than reveals, covers rather than uncovers.47 Although this assumption seems to go against the symbolism

The Transfiguration in Mark


of Exodus and Sinai where the cloud discloses the reassuring presence of God, the opposite is also true. Even in the Old Testament the cloud as symbol of divine presence conveys a sense of unutterable holiness that stands over against the creaturely world. In Exodus 24, for example, only Moses is permitted to enter the cloud. God's presence thus retains the quality of mystery even in its most profound self-disclosure. That which conceals also reveals. The more that is revealed of God's self-giving in Mark's Gospel (as in the Sinai tradition), the more mysterious, incomprehensible and awesome that divine revelation appears. The cloud signifies 'the visible form of the governing, guiding and yet hidden form of Yahweh's presence'.48 Mark confronts the disciples with an identity that is both revealed and concealed at the same time: covered over by their inability to comprehend but even more fundamentally by the very mystery of who and what God is, a God who is made known yet remains elusive (see 4:41). Perhaps there is also a sense of the shadowy cloud protecting the three disciples from a sight too awesome for them to contemplate. It is important at this point to underline that the story of the transfiguration is not just about the word of God. Some have argued that the climax of the transfiguration is the divine voice, with its proclamation of Jesus' identity and confirmation of his teaching.4 The structure of the story suggests, on the contrary, that the identity of Jesus is revealed first and foremost in his metamorphosis: on their descent of the mountain Jesus forbids the disciples to report 'what they had seeri (9:9). The voice from the cloud functions to interpret the significance of the heavenly portents, making clear that what is taking place is the unveiling of Jesus' mysterious identity as the divine Son. The actual transfiguration of Jesus is not a peripheral detail, a setting of the scene, but rather the purpose of the entire episode. His bodily appearance changes because his true identity, hidden from the eyes of the world, is unveiled to the astonished gaze of the disciples. The transfiguration, therefore, does not just vindicate Jesus' teaching on the way of the cross. More fundamentally, it is concerned to unveil the source and certainty of salvation.